WEST ORANGE, NJ — In addition the 97,459 people who visited the 11th annual Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular at Turtle Back Zoo in 2017, the second-largest attendance figure for the event, behind the 131,594 people who came in 2015, more than 11 tons of non-perishable food, clothing and toys were collected for those in need.

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., said it was humbling to see the large number of items dropped off at the Holiday Lights Spectacular to assist the less fortunate.

“These donations show the generous spirit and caring that exists in our community and certainly helped make a difference during the holiday season to those who need assistance,” he said. “We offered free admission to the Holiday Lights as a way to give back to our residents and make the event available to everyone, and we thank our visitors for their extraordinary generosity to help the less fortunate.”

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This past winter, 22,543 pounds of non-perishable food was collected for the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. In addition, 187 bags of new toys and 334 bags of winter coats and clothing were also collected.

This was the eighth year that visitors were asked to make a donation to help the less fortunate, and donations collected over the years have amounted to more than 78 tons of non-perishable food, 339,630 toys and 17,968 winter coats.

These items were donated to Elmwood United Presbyterian Church in East Orange, the Essex County Sheriff’s Office Toy Drive, Foster and Adoptive Family Services in Monmouth Junction, Iglesia Cristiana Emanuel in Newark, Ivy Hill Elementary School Kid’s Closet in Newark, Jersey Battered Women’s Shelter, Living Logos Christian Assembly in Newark, Newark/Bloomfield Elks, NJPAC Toy and Coat Drive to benefit La Casa De Don Pedro in Newark, East Orange YMCA, United Baptist Church Clothing Ministry in Elizabeth and Willing Heart Community Center in Newark.

About 50 animal and holiday-themed figures lit up the winter night in Turtle Back Zoo and the surrounding Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex. More than one million lights illuminated figures of giraffes, bears, tigers and elephants, along with holiday lights designed to look like wooden soldiers, stars and winter scenes.

The Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular was sponsored by Covanta Energy, PSE&G, the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the Essex County Parks Foundation.

The zoo is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For additional information, call 973-731-5800 or visit www.essexcountynj.org.